Leaders at video game giant Activision Blizzard have departed the company as it faces a sexual harassment lawsuit, including fresh claims that HR leaders advised some alleged victims not to take action against their abusers.
The World of Warcraft developer is currently facing legal action in the US after claims of sexual harassment, unequal pay and inappropriate behaviour were lodged by former employees.
Last week, Blizzard President, J Allen Brack, announced he would be stepping down from his role, just days after being named in the lawsuit.
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And now, amid fresh allegations that senior personnel did not adequately respond to claims of workplace harassment, Bloomberg has reported that HR executive, Jesse Meschuk, has also parted ways with the firm where he spent more than a decade.
Meschuk was the senior people officer at Blizzard and the unit’s top HR representative.
Bloomberg had previously reported that Activision Blizzard “fosters a ‘frat boy’ culture in which female employees are subjected to constant sexual harassment, unequal pay, and retaliation, according to a lawsuit filed by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing.”
Bloomberg stated that the lawsuit outlined “a pervasive frat boy workplace culture,” including “cube crawls,” in which male employees “drink copious amounts of alcohol as they crawl their way through various cubicles in the office and often engage in inappropriate behaviour toward female employees.”
The lawsuit also included a claim that a female Activision employee took her own life while on a company trip with her male supervisor. The employee had allegedly been subjected to intense sexual harassment prior to her death, including having nude photos passed around at a company party, the complaint said.
Harassment claims were ‘met with skepticism’
As reported by Axios, employees who submitted complaints to Activion Blizzard’s HR said the department had “a reputation for doing nothing.”
Nicki Broderick, a former Blizzard employee from 2012-2019, told Axios she approached HR several times with complaints about inappropriate behaviour from superiors.
In one instance, Broderick and a senior manager, who is reportedly still with the company, got into a heated argument during which "he stood over me at my desk and wouldn't let me leave, wouldn't let me reach for my phone," she tells Axios.
Broderick said when she reported the incident to HR, she was told that "it's not harassment. He didn't touch you” according to Axios.
She claimed her career growth as "stunted" after going to HR, and that she wasn’t considered for promotion for several years after the incident.
Broderick also alleged that, on a separate occasion, an HR rep told her she was "acting like a brat," and that she should "suck it up".
Another current Activision Blizzard employee told Axios that after she was physically assaulted by one employee, her report to HR was met with “instant skepticism.”
"One of the things [the HR rep] commented on was that she was surprised I wasn't crying or I wasn't more hysterical” Axios reported the employee as saying.
Company vows to investigate all claims
In a comment to Axios, an Activision Blizzard spokesperson said the company takes "every allegation seriously and will investigate all claims."
The company said: "We will not tolerate anyone found to have impeded the integrity of our processes for evaluating claims and imposing appropriate consequences. If employees have any concerns about how Human Resources handled claims, we have other reporting options, including anonymous ones."
Preventing sexual harassment
According to Acas, sexual harassment is “unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature” and the law protects employees, workers, contractors, self-employed and job applicants from this.
For this to be considered as sexual harassment, the unwanted behaviour must have either violated someone’s dignity, whether it was intended or not, or created a hostile environment for them, whether it was intended or not, the governmental body adds.
Data carried out by the Everyday Sexism Project and the Trades Union Congress (TUC) discovered that 52% of women have been victims of unwanted sexual behaviours at work - from groping to inappropriate jokes.
As such, it is crucial that employers do all that they can to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.
In a previous interview, Katie Hodson, Partner and Head of Employment at SAS Daniels LLP, told HR Grapevine that in instances of sexual harassment, employers should have “robust policies in place”.
She previously pointed out that “staff need to be clear that this behaviour is unacceptable and aware of the consequences of breaching the policies. This could be supported by staff training”.
“Further, any and all complaints should be taken seriously and investigated thoroughly. This would include asking relevant questions and looking at the evidence with a clear and unbiased viewpoint,” Hodson concluded.